Managing from the Kitchen Table | How to Lead a Remote Team

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A large part of our population has moved to working remotely, many for the first time. In an ideal world we would have established remote working and communication protocols, and provided training in advance. Given the rapid onset of the pandemic, this wasn’t possible. With little time to prepare, we are now faced with leading remotely, where your team are not only separated from you, but from each other.

How do we need to adjust our leadership approach to ensure our team remain engaged and productive? The truth is, managing a remote team can be quite challenging. Below are the four most common challenges you are likely to face and actions you can use to overcome them.

CHALLENGE 1 – Communication
We all know that communication is the key to success for any team. Fostering open dialogue while working remotely can be challenging, both in its timeliness and our approach. If you can only focus on one challenge, make it this one. Getting communication right, will help you and the team navigate your way through everything else.

Leadership Action 1 – Maximise Tech
We can’t rely on our traditional communication methods of email or phone. They can be slow, too formal and easily misinterpreted. Make use of the myriad of communication-based tech tools available. We recommend sticking with just a couple. For us, we’ve had success using an instant messaging app for social chat and Zoom for internal and client meetings.

Leadership Action 2 – One-on-One + Team
You cannot overcommunicate with your team, particularly in the early stages of working remotely. Have scheduled times for one-on-one and team meetings, at least weekly. It is also important to let the team know the best times to catch you between meetings. For us, we currently have two 15-minute Zoom team meetings a day, both are optional, but we are encouraged to attend at least one. We share our wins and ideas, discuss our challenges or sometimes just unload about home-schooling while working. This keeps us connected and in the loop of what is going on with the broader team/business.

CHALLENGE 2 – Tracking Work and Productivity
When you manage remote workers, you have a lot less insight into how and when work is getting done. If you are prone to micromanaging, the inherent freedom of remote working is going to push you outside your comfort zone.

Leadership Action 1 – Let It Go!
You can no longer manage every aspect of the work done (honestly, you never could). Focus on the outcomes, not the ‘time in the seat’. Regular work hours are probably now out for many of your team. Trust and empower your team to manage their time, to manage their days and their responsibilities around an output. Make a promise to each other: I’m going to deliver on X, and if I can’t deliver it to you, I’m going to communicate why.

Leadership Action 2 – Be explicit
Your team must know what is expected of them. What are the priorities, what are the deadlines and what are the parameters they must work within, ie respond to emails within 1 business day or everyone must attend at least one daily check-in. Agree on what are the deliverables/focus for the upcoming week, then give them the freedom and flexibility to get the work done. If it isn’t done on time or to the standard you want, talk about why.

CHALLENGE 3 – Social Isolation and Mental Health
We have a legal and moral requirement to look after the mental health of our team. Whilst we can provide hope and encouragement at a team level, ‘we’ve got this’, ‘we’ll get through this’; it is equally important to support our team individually. Whilst some of these actions can feel a bit forced to begin with, research shows that as well as looking after their mental health, they will help your team maintain their sense of ‘belonging’ to your business, lessening the likelihood of them leaving.

Leadership Action 1 – Wellbeing Checks
Actively look for signs of distress. Start every one-on-one conversation, asking how they are and/or how is this remote work situation working for them. In the current environment you cannot ask this too often. Listen carefully to their response, what they are saying and not saying. Probe a little further if you need. Where stress or mental illness is identified: acknowledge it, ask what you can do to help and encourage/provide access to mental health professional support (where needed).

Leadership Action 2 – Create Virtual Watercoolers
We’ve talked earlier about weaving ‘non-work’ related conversations into your communication. You may need to set the example, by starting your meetings with asking everyone about their weekends, or contributing messenger discussions with memes or pictures of your pets. You might even start a Friday night virtual trivia challenge!

Leadership Action 3 – Flexibility
In addition to the sudden transition to remote working, many of your team will be now be dealing with the added burden of childcare, home schooling and/or elder care. As leaders, we need to expect distractions and be regularly communicating with our teams on how we can adapt their hours/work to help them manage their competing responsibilities.

CHALLENGE 4 – Maintaining Trust
Face-to-face interactions and regular communication create feelings of trust and a bond within the team. Working remotely can diminish that trust and cohesion, between you and the team, and between team members.

Leadership Action 1 – Transparency
Transparency should be your default setting. You need to go out of our way to ensure you provide everyone with all of the information and context they need to understand and complete their work. No one wants to be left out of important conversations or surprised by unexpected discoveries.

Leadership Action 2 – Manage Conflict
Unfortunately, this issue doesn’t go away just because the team aren’t interacting face-to-face. In fact, we now have the added challenge of having less visibility of when conflict arises. Look for the signs: change in tone or behaviour, decrease in participation in group threads or meetings, reluctance to work with individuals or on team projects. Be proactive, start asking questions and once identified, go through your normal resolution process. Step in early to avoid escalation.

Claire Huntington has over 15 years’ experience in senior and executive level human resource management and strategic leadership positions. Claire learnt HR under the wings of great mentors and through trial and error. She has a very practical hands-on approach to HR and management, and isn’t afraid to look outside the box. Claire is also mum to three school aged firecrackers and is an avid photographer in her spare time.

Find more useful information and advice at www.inspirehq.com.au or by following Claire on LinkedIn

Disclaimer: The material contained in this publication is of a general nature only. It is not, nor is intended to be, legal advice. If you wish to act based on the content of this publication, we recommend that you seek professional advice.

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